- The former Google and Uber executive at the center of a massive self-driving-car controversy was indicted on charges of stealing trade secrets, US officials said Tuesday.
- Anthony Levandowski is accused of stealing 14,000 confidential files when he left Waymo, Google's self-driving-car startup, in 2016, the US Department of Justice said.
- If convicted, he could face decades in prison and hefty fines, prosecutors said.
- The 39-year-old pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and was released on a $2 million bail.
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Anthony Levandowski, 39, a former Google engineer and founding member of the company's self-driving-car project, has been indicted on charges of stealing trade secrets, the US Department of Justice said Tuesday.
The US Attorney for the Northern District of California said Levandowski was accused of stealing roughly 14,000 "engineering, manufacturing, and business files" from Google's self-driving-car unit, later rebranded as Waymo, when he resigned without notice in January 2016 to found a company called Otto, which would later be acquired by Uber.
"All of us have the right to change jobs," US Attorney David Anderson said in a press release. "None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation."
The indictment outlines 33 charges against Levandowski. If convicted, Levandowski could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each violation, prosecutors said.
For years, Levandowski has been at the center of a fight between Uber and Google over self-driving-car technology. Levandowski was fired by Uber in May 2017, roughly three months after Waymo's lawsuit was filed, and the case went to trial in February 2018. The two companies eventually reached a settlement out of court.
Levandowski's lawyer released the following statement:
"For more than a decade, Anthony Levandowski has been an industry-leading innovator in self-driving technologies. He didn't steal anything, from anyone.
"The case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago. The downloads at issue occurred while Anthony was still working at Google - when he and his team were authorized to use that information. None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company.
"Over these last couple years, Anthony has continued to lead the development of new and innovative safe-driving technologies to advance this ground-breaking industry. Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial."
In a statement, Uber said it had "cooperated with the government throughout their investigation and will continue to do so."
A Waymo representative said: "We have always believed competition should be fueled by innovation, and we appreciate the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI on this case."
At his arraignment in San Jose Tuesday afternoon, a suit-and-sneaker-clad Levandowski pleaded not guilty to the charged. He was released on a $2 million bail after the government argued he could be a flight risk because of his dual French-US citizenship.
Since parting ways with Uber, Levandowski has expressed interest in starting a religion centered on super-smart artificial intelligence. In a November 2017 interview with Wired magazine, his first since the Waymo lawsuit, he shed more light on his new church, Way of the Future.
"Part of it being smarter than us means it will decide how it evolves, but at least we can decide how we act around it," Levandowski told Wired. "I would love for the machine to see us as its beloved elders that it respects and takes care of. We would want this intelligence to say, 'Humans should still have rights, even though I'm in charge.'"
Levandowski has also founded a second trucking startup, Pronto, since leaving Uber. The company has remained relatively quiet, though Levandowski told The Guardian in 2018 that the team had routed a modified, self-driving Toyota Prius on a 3,099-mile trip from San Francisco to New York.
The Guardian said that while it was not able to confirm Levandowski's account of the trip, if it happened as described, it would be the longest recorded trip by a self-driving vehicle without human intervention.
Copilot, Pronto's self-driving-car product, notably does not use lidar - easily the most popular self-driving-car technology, using expensive radar sensors - but relies on cameras.
Following Tuesday's indictment, Pronto said its chief safety officer, Robbie Miller, would take over as CEO.
"The criminal charges filed against Anthony relate exclusively to Lidar and do not in any way involve Pronto's ground-breaking technology," Pronto said. "Of course, we are fully supportive of Anthony and his family during this period."
Brittany Chang contributed to this report.